The selection process in Falkirk Labour has blown up into a national debate about the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party. We publish here an article by Gray Allan, Socialist Appeal supporter and Vice Chair of Falkirk West Constituency Labour Party, the local Party constituency that is the centre of attention.
Falkirk has a proud history – birthplace of the Industrial revolution, with the opening of the Carron Ironworks in 1759, and centre of the light castings industry in the early 20th Century. Now the area is the centre of the petrochemical industry in Scotland and home to Alexander-Dennis, a coach-builder of international repute.
As a result of its position as an industrial centre, Falkirk has a proud tradition of trade union organisation. In 1897 the town was the location for the founding conference of the Scottish TUC. The constituencies including Falkirk elected their first Labour MPs in 1922.
However, Labour Party activists may be forgiven for wondering what great offence they have committed given what has been visited on them over the past 20 years! The Dennis Canavan debacle, where a left MP and strong pro-devolution supporter was excluded from selection for election to the Scottish Parliament; the humiliation of the Blairite candidate when Canavan stood as an independent and the resulting exodus from the Party of many good left activists; the carpet – bagging of the Constituency by Blairite ultra-loyalist Eric Joyce and the following personal and political disaster he turned out to be: “it cannot get any worse”, Party members were often heard to say! And now this – the selection debacle in Falkirk, which has blown up into a national issue about the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party.
It is entirely correct that the trade unions are affiliated to the Party and play a central role in deciding policy and voting in elections within the Party. Most affiliated unions support the campaign to bring the Party back to its socialist roots by convincing trade unionists to take up personal membership of the Party. However, it is vital that workers and trade unionists are actively involved in the Party and are not just paper members. In this way working class people can argue the case for socialist policies, regain control of the Party, and start the fight back against the Tory cuts.
Unite should be applauded for their initiative to increase the amount of working class and trade union representation in the Labour Party – in the words of Unite, “to win the Labour Party for working people; to win working people to the Labour Party”. Other unions, such as UNISON and the GMB, should follow suit and commit to recruiting their members in the Party also.
However, it is important to carry out recruitment work in the correct way, through patient explanation with trade union members, encouraging them to be actively involved in the democratic structures, internal discussions, and decision making processes of the Party.
In this respect, recruitment into the Party should go hand-in-hand with political education by the trade unions – as Unite have been doing – in order to provide activists with the arguments needed to fight for socialist policies.
The right wing of the Party and the Tories are using the Falkirk debacle as a weapon to attack the Trade Union link with the Party. This must be opposed: the Labour Party was founded as the political voice of the trade unions, and the task now is to strengthen the working class and trade union voice within the Labour Party, not weaken it.
Miliband is announcing off-the-cuff rule changes, such as opting in to Labour affiliation for individual union members. While some unions, notably UNISON, already do this, opting in or out is an internal matter for members in each union to decide.
The American idea of a primary election has also been floated – where non-member but Labour-voting electors are allowed to vote in the selection of a Labour candidate. This would make it even easier for the bureaucracy to get favourites elected to the Edinburgh and Westminster parliaments.
Now is the time for rank-and-file trade union and party members to step forward, in Falkirk and across the country and make our voices heard:
- Reject bureaucratic interference in the local Party
- Defend the Trade Union link
- No Primary elections
- Against Blairism in the Party
- For workers’ MPs on a workers wage
- Fight for socialist policies in the Labour Party